Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lobbyist seen as a top choice for US DOT secretary

Lobbyist seen as a top choice for US DOT secretary
By John Crawley and Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trucking industry lobbyist Bill Graves has emerged as a top candidate to replace Norman Mineta as U.S. transportation secretary, government and industry sources said on Friday.

A Bush administration source, who spoke anonymously because a decision has not been made on the Cabinet post, said an announcement could come next week and that Graves, a former Kansas governor, was a strong candidate.

Transportation industry sources also said Graves' name has surfaced more prominently in discussions about a replacement for Mineta, who left on Friday after 5-1/2 years on the job.

Mineta, who announced he was resigning on June 23, was the longest serving transportation secretary and the only Democrat in Bush's Cabinet.

Graves comes from a Midwest trucking family and was a major fund-raiser for Bush. He took over as chief executive of the American Trucking Associations in 2003 after two gubernatorial terms. The ATA is the leading trucking industry trade group in Washington. Graves could not be reached for comment.

Marion Blakey, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration, is also a contender, government and industry sources say.

Blakey is a Washington insider who has a long association with Republican politics. She headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates auto safety, in the early 1990s.

In 2001, Blakey was appointed chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, and later was tapped to head the FAA.

She is well respected in Congress and by the aviation industry. She has successfully carried out White House aviation initiatives, but some speculate her decision to impose a contract on air traffic controllers this summer after difficult negotiations could complicate Senate confirmation proceedings with labor-friendly Democrats.

Blakey was not available for comment, a spokeswoman said.

Relations between the FAA and Mineta's office were cool. Mineta said in an interview with Traffic World magazine, published on Friday, that he favored his deputy Maria Cino as his successor.

A former Republican National Committee member and Bush campaign official with virtually no transportation experience, Cino is seen as confirmable and a political asset heading into the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Mineta's spokesman confirmed the Traffic World report but said there was no word from the White House yet on a nominee.